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John B. Goodenough, born in 1922, received his BA in mathematics from Yale University in 1943 while serving in World War II as a USAAF meteorologist and went on to earn his MS (1951) and PhD (1952) in physics from the University of Chicago. At the MIT Lincoln Laboratory (1952–1976), he developed the concept of cooperative orbital ordering in transition-metal compounds that proved key to both realization of the first random-access memory (RAM) of the digital computer and understanding of structural martensitic transitions. He also articulated the Goodenough-Kanamori rules for the sign of interatomic spin-spin interactions and the role of covalent d-orbital bonding in the creation of narrow itinerant-electron bands.
As professor and head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford (1976–1986), he showed that oxide cathodes would enable a Li-ion battery, a demonstration exploited in Japan to usher in the wireless revolution. In 1986, he took the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, where he continues his studies of both the fundamental properties of transition-metal oxides and the development of materials for alternative electrochemical technologies to realize a sustainable energy supply for modern society.
His numerous honors include the Japan Prize, the Presidential Enrico Fermi Award, and the National Medal of Science. He is a member of the National Academies of Engineering and Sciences and a foreign member of the Royal Society and the Academies of Science of France, Spain, and India.